This week John Funk said in his Twitter feed, "Let's be honest here. We could write the news story 'Bobby Kotick Opens Door for Old Lady' and people would *still* be furious with him." He's right. Activision CEO Bobby Kotick has gathered such an astoundingly negative reputation that you can almost troll a forum just by invoking his name. I admit to being a minor contributor to this attitude. I've made Kotick the butt of many jokes and taken my cheap shots like everyone else. So I thought I'd like to put aside the fat jokes, the "dark lord" jokes, the retard jokes, and have a slightly more grown-up look at what this guy is doing.
A lot of people give Kotick a hard time for being "greedy." By greedy I assume they mean he wants his company to make more money. This is not something we should be angry about. As the chief executive officer of a muiltibillion-dollar company, it's his job to be greedy. That's why they hired him. Being angry about a CEO being greedy is like getting mad at a heavy metal band for playing electric guitars and being loud. Do you think Valve software puts games on deep discount because they love us? They do it because they can make more money when they occasionally go after the cheapskates and bargain hounds. And that's fine.
No, the problem isn't that Kotick is "greedy." The problem is that he's awful at his job. He's bereft of ideas, he doesn't understand his customers, and he has no sense of public relations. According to Kotick's Forbes profile, he makes just under a million bucks and takes home a total of about fifteen million in benefits and bonuses. I think that's pretty standard for companies this size. But for that kind of money, Activision should be getting someone remarkable. If you're going to take the budget of a mid-size game and give it to one guy, every single year, then the person cashing the checks should be bringing something amazing to the table. There are hundreds of thousands of talented business majors in the world that would love a crack at a high-paying, high-profile job like this, and Activision should make sure they're getting the best of the best. The CEO needs to be smarter than the other contenders, have a deeper understanding of the industry, be great with his employees, and have a silver tongue in public. Mr. Kotick has none of these qualities.
Let's run down the list of what the CEO should be able to do and see how Kotick holds up:
1. He should be exceptional at coming up with new business ideas.
From the start, Kotick's business ideas have been ham-fisted and obvious. His only plan has been to nickel and dime gamers by charging them money for stuff they used to get for free. Everything he does is just a variation on this theme. Charging for cutscenes. Charging for multiplayer. Cutting up the three acts of a single-player game and selling each at full price.
He shows no understanding of going after downmarket sales. (As Valve does.) He doesn't have any ideas for new products or services, but instead just sells stuff they were already giving away.
Imagine if you hired someone to make your grocery store more profitable and they came up with ideas like making people rent their shopping carts, charging an entry fee for each section of the store, and charging for shopping bags. Would you conclude that you had just hired a business genius? Check out this post on the Team Liquid forums, which gives a timeline of Kotick's ideas. Or rather, his one idea and its thousand permutations.
(Although I will say that the small $5 and $10 transactions for World of Warcraft were a new product and turned out to be quite profitable. Then again, "Get World of Warcraft to make more money" isn't exactly the most impressive challenge the industry has to offer. Just about anyone can find a way to make money when you already have fifteen million customers.)